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What does Yūrei-zaka mean?

In Japanese History on October 22, 2015 at 6:11 am

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka (Ghost Hill)

If you spend any amount of time in Tōkyō, you will notice that it’s a hilly city. The Japanese themselves often refer to the country as 島国 shimaguni an island country (implying isolation from the rest of the world) but also as 山国 yamaguni a country of mountains (implying, well, um, it has a lot of hills and mountains).

Tōkyō’s 港区 Minto-ku Minato Ward has both the budget and ballz to commemorate famous hills that had names in the Edo Period. At the bottom and top of many hills, you can find 4-sided wooden poles announcing the hills’ names and brief explanations behind the names. In Tōkyō, references to locations such as 鳥居坂下 Toriizakashita the bottom of Torii Hill or 中野坂上 Nakano-sakaue the top of Nakano Hill are commonplace. These references may be crystallized in train station or bus top names, postal code designations, or just in the day-to-day parlance of the people in the neighborhood. For me, the most beautiful thing about this is that Japanese streets traditionally don’t have names. This reflects the Pre-WWII necessity for giving directions or identifying with your neighborhood by means of landmarks[i].

Yūrei - a Japanese ghost

Yūrei – a Japanese ghost

Ghost Hill

There are 幽霊坂 Yūrei-zaka “ghost hills” all over Japan – and at least 8 in modern day Tōkyō – and all of them have different etymologies. However, today I want to focus on Edo-Tōkyō’s most famous “Ghost Hill.” It’s located in 港区三田四丁目 Minato-ku Mita 4-chōme, the 4th block of Mita’s Minato Ward. It’s probably most famous because it lays on some of the former shōgunate’s most important lands. Many of the nearby estates were occupied by 大名 daimyō feudal lords performing service to the shōgun. Much of the area was heavily wooded which made it dark in the daytime and even darker at night. In the Edo Period the name was written as 幽霊坂 Yūrei-zaka literally “ghost hill” or ゆうれい坂 Yūrei-zaka which was not literally “ghost hill[ii].”

It’s said that in 1635, when the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu carried out a massive expansion of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, a number of temples and shrines were moved from castle’s periphery to make way for daimyō residences and military installations. A handful of these were relocated along a new hillside road (or by some accounts a minor road dating back to the Kamakura Period) near Edo Bay in the 三田 Mita area. In the early Edo Period, the place was said to be quite rustic and had lush vegetation and many tall trees. Unless the moon was particularly bright that night, the road more or less couldn’t be traversed at night – and even bright nights were risky because thieves and 妖怪 yōkai supernatural beings were said to haunt the woods waiting for unsuspecting passersby. The wealthy, including samurai, could only pass through with lantern bearers to light the way.

This is a famous photo of the lower residence of Shimabara Domain on nearby Tsuna-zaka (Tsuna Hill). It's not Yūrei-zaka, but it gives you an idea of how wooded the area was at that time. Even a street like this would have been scary at night.

This is a famous photo of the lower residence of Shimabara Domain on nearby Tsuna-zaka (Tsuna Hill). It’s not Yūrei-zaka, but it gives you an idea of how wooded the area was at that time. Even a street like this would have been scary at night.

Moving Lanterns Cast Moving Shadows, Don’t They?

Temples and shrines generally held large swaths of land and much of it was wooded with old trees. Yūrei-zaka was said to be so desolate and dark that even in the afternoon ghosts would show themselves. Others say that because in the early days, there were only temples and shrines and no bustling commoner districts with shops and restaurants, the area was particularly 寂しい sabishii lonely/desolate. Passing through there, especially at night, was a scary thing. Whether you saw a ghost there or not, it seemed like the sort of place you would most likely see a ghost.

yureizaka ghost

Another Etymology

In the Meiji Period, a certain 森有礼 Mori Arinori is said to have had a residence here. His given name 有礼 Arinori is the 名乗り nanori name reading his kanji. But according to this theory, the local Edoites read the name as  有礼Yūrei the 音読み onyomi Chinese reading for names. The story goes that the locals felt the original writing was inauspicious and unenlightened. It reflected Edo Period superstitions. For the locals, Arinori was an example of the new enlightenment. In the Meiji Government, he served as the first 文部大臣 Monbu Daijin Minister of Education. Forget the “ghost street,” let’s have an “enlightenment street!”

mori arinori

Never Heard of the Guy

Arinori is an interesting character. Longtime readers will remember that there was an elite transfer from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain and 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain to the newly renamed 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital after the Meiji Coup. The 江戸っ子 Edokko Edoites – now forced to be called 東京人 Tōkyō no hito or Tōkyō-jin Tōkyōites – resented the “uncouth” outsiders from the south[iii]. The jagoffs from Satsuma were particularly despised by the people of the capital[iv].

Despite local prejudices and perhaps in line with the revolutionary and modern cultural shift begun during the Bakumatsu and amped up during the early Meiji Era, the Edoites (now Tōkyōites) found that not all of their new ruling class from the south consisted of assholes hell bent on taking over the city for personal gain. Some truly enlightened people were determined to drag Japan kicking and screaming into “modernity.” Some of them just so happened to be from Satsuma. Mori Arinori is one of those people and the locals seemed to like the guy.

arinori

So who was this Mori Arinori guy and why should we know him?

Well, he was born in Satsuma in 1847 to the 森家 Mori-ke Mori Clan. This meant he was 6 years old at the time of Commodore Perry’s arrival and he was 21 years old when the shōgunate actually fell in the 1868 Meiji Coup. In 1865, he went to University College London to study western mathematics, physics, and naval surveying. He became enamored with western thought – in particular, that of the British Empire and the “Anglosphere[v].”

After the collapse of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, he served as the first Japanese ambassador to the United States (1871-1873). At that time, he became fascinated with the American education system and came back to Japan with an intention to reform education. Oh, and he had big plans.

He returned as an Americanophile. He advocated for freedom of religion – in particular secularism and humanism in education. The 1870’s was the peak of discussion about women’s rights in the US. Arinori naturally pushed for women’s rights in Japan, but ironically never advocated their right to vote[vi]. Most surprisingly, he recognized English as not only a lingua franca (international language), but as the language of the future. In his education reforms, he pushed for Japan to abandon the Japanese language in order to compete on a global scale. No joke. He and a large number of supporters wanted to replace the Japanese language with the English language.

These were some of the most radical ideas interjected into the Japanese socio-political conversations of the time. But perhaps he had “gone too native” during his time abroad. His time in England and America affected his sense of spirituality and he became a Christian. His western secularist, humanist, proto-feminist, and monotheistic Christian values were sending out mixed messages to the Japanese statesmen of his day. And the average Japanese person of the day was still used to the so-called “closed country policy.” They’d never studied a foreign language or seen a map of the world. Outside of Edo or the major port cities, they’d mostly likely never even seen a non-Japanese person. FFS, Christianity was more or less verboten since the time of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (late 1500’s).

Arinori made friends and enemies on both the left and the right, but unfortunately his progressive views ultimately got him killed. On the same day the 大日本帝國憲法 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kenpō Meiji Constitution was promulgated, he was assassinated. The killer’s rationale was that he rudely entered 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine[vii] without taking off his shoes and used other western mannerisms[viii].

ghost cemetery

Mori Arinori is an unfortunate example of how the Meiji Coup of 1868 didn’t usher in a new age of peace overnight. People on both sides of the revolution fought for change and “modernization,” but a spirit of terrorism that arose during the Bakumatsu was bound to plague Japan for at least another 100 years[ix]. Even after Japan’s defeat in WWII, humiliating occupation, and haphazard reconstruction, the country was plagued with internal political strife – much of which can be traced back to the great cultural upheaval of the Bakumatsu and the disproportionate advances in the urban centers and the decades’ long lag in the suburban and rural areas.

Anyways, Arinori was pushing for reforms that some intellectuals were ready for but the average person of the street, farmer, ex-samurai, merchant, or ex-outcast couldn’t even begin to wrap their heads around. And on the day the Meiji Constitution was proclaimed in 1889 (Meiji 22), he was murdered.

graves

Yūrei-zaka Today

Edo Period forests had taken a toll in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake and like much of the bay area; this neighborhood took a beating in the firebombing of Tōkyō by American forces in 1945. Today it looks nothing like its Edo Era self. But many of the temples that characterized the area during the time of the Shōgunate are still there.

I don’t know if this is an exhaustive list, some temples seem to have moved over the years. Today, most of these temples are pretty minor. But, in those days, 2 of them were pretty major (I’m looking at you 實相寺 Jissō-ji and 正泉寺 Shōsen-ji).

長松寺
Chōshō-ji

Fairly minor temple, but is home to the grave of 荻生徂徠 Ogyū Sorai who some consider the most influential Confucian scholar of the Edo Period. I don’t know much about Confucianism, so here’s a link to an article about him. Knock yourself out.

玉鳳寺
Gyokuhō-ji

A minor temple, barely famous for its 白粉地蔵 oshiroi jizō white faced jizō[x].

實相寺
Jissō-ji

保科正之 Hoshina Masayuki[xi] chose this temple to be a 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple of his family in Edo[xii]. Masayuki was the 3rd son of 2nd shōgun 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada by a concubine. Long story short, he was given control of 会津藩 Aizu Han Aizu Domain with a stipend of 230,000 石 koku.  As a senior member of the 老中 rōjū council of elders at Edo Castle, he was appointed regent of his nephew, the 4th shōgun, 徳川家綱 Tokugawa Ietsuna.  To legitimize his position, the shōgunate granted him a new family name 松平 Matsudaira and so he is often referred to as 松平正之 Matsudaira Masayuki. (Update: I spoke with a member of the family maintaining this temple, she said the grave is Masayuki’s wife’s grave and that Masayuki’s grave is in Aizu.)

仙翁寺
Senshō-ji

A super-minor temple.

正覚院
Shōkaku-in

Yet another super-minor temple.

称讃寺
Shōsan-ji

Minor, minor, minor…

正泉寺
Shōsen-ji

Shōsen-ji was established sometime in the first 5 years of the 1650’s near 赤坂溜池 Akasaka Tameike the Akasaka Reservoir[xiii], but later transferred to 三田 Mita[xiv].  The Mita location served as the first フランス公使館 Furansu Kōshikan French Embassy. It also provided housing to the Swiss representative. British citizen and very well-connected interpreter, Ernest Satow also stayed here for a while. In 1911 (Meiji 44), the temple was transferred to its current location in 目黒 Meguro[xv].

随応寺
Zuiō-ji

Totally minor.

Other Yūrei-zaka in Edo-Tōkyō

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that there were Yūrei-zaka all over Japan. Compiling a comprehensive list would take forever, but luckily Japanese Wikipedia has a list of the 8 major ones in Tōkyō. That said, there were at least 14 Yūrei-zaka in Edo. The 坂学会 Saka Gakkai Society of Hill Nerds[xvi] lists all of hills in Edo on their website. The site is pretty freaking amazing, but it’s Japanese only.

Name

Location
(some have links to previous articles)

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka

Mejiro-dai

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka

Mejiro-dai

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka

Tabata

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka

Kanda-Awaji-chō

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka

Kanda-Suruga-dai (near Akihabara)

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka

Fujimi-chō (Chiyoda Ward)

幽霊坂
Yūrei-zaka

Ushigome

ゆうれい坂
Yūrei-zaka

Shinagawa

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[i] A tradition that is very much alive in Tōkyō. “When you see x, turn right. Go straight until you see y. At y there is a 3 way intersection. When you see shop z, take that street one block. I’ll meet you there.” This is how directions are given in Tōkyō.
[ii] Well, let’s be honest. This means “ghost hill,” but this ambiguous spelling would lead to a later folk etymology.
[iii] It seems to me the Edokko (native Edoites) always regarded outsiders – even those on sankin-kōtai duty – with a bit of disdain. This is not unlike modern Kyōto, where geisha districts view outsiders with distrust and have a system of vetting prospective customers. That style isn’t a Kyōto thing. It’s an old Japan thing. Kyōto is famous for this because it’s one of places where the tradition carries on traditionally.
[iv] Again, they were outsiders since the Battle of Sekigahara, so the prejudice against Satsuma was probably ingrained in the culture of Edo. They were one of many embodiments of 田舎侍 inaka-zamurai country samurai – elites who didn’t understand the manners of Edo or Kyōto. Whether this is true or not, the Satsuma men had a reputation in the early Meiji Period for still practicing 衆道 shūdō a somewhat ritualized form of man-on-man sex among samurai – something that had fallen in disfavor since the coming of the foreigners and was actually made illegal in 1872 (Meiji 5).
[v] The English-speaking world.
[vi] Dick!!
[vii] Ise Grand Shrine claims to house the 神 kami deity of mother of the imperial family and therefore all of Japan. It is without a doubt one of the most important Shintō institutions in Japan. The shrine’s traditional establishment is 4 BCE (about 2000 years ago) making this one of the most important shrines in all of Japanese history – especially in regards to the imperial family. Yet right wing politicians insist on going to 靖国神社 Yasukuni Jinja Yasukuni Shrine with the express purpose of pissing of Korean and China. Yasukuni was established in 1869 (Meiji 2) to honor the war dead of the illegal coup Satsuma and Chōshū waged against the shōgunate. The Meiji Coup established the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Empire of Japan and Yasuki Shrine became the government’s repository for the veneration of 神 kami of those who died in service of the newly established Meiji State (and by extension, imperial Japan in general).
[viii] Just for the record, the “official story” is generally believed to be a bunch of horse shit. What got him killed was his radical political view and his attempt to change the education system.
[ix] I’m looking at you, 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio.
[x] What is a jizō? Read here.
[xi] Read more about him in this article at Samurai Archives.
[xii] Masayuki himself is buried in 福島 Fukushima, once part of Aizu Domain. My understanding is that the graves at Shōsen-ji are those of the concubines, unmarried daughters, and sons who died before coming of age. The daimyō and most important members of the Aizu Matsudaira who died in Edo were interred at 広徳寺 Kōtoku-ji in present day 練馬区 Nerima-ku Nerima Ward. I haven’t visited, but I was just checking out some pictures and the cemetery looks spectacular. By the way, I have an article on Nerima.
[xiii] Guess what, I have an article about Tameike. It’s old, but the information is good.
[xiv] I have an article about Mita. It’s also old, but the information is good.
[xv] Surprise, surprise! I have an article about Meguro.
[xvi] My translation.

What does Fuda no Tsuji mean?

In Japanese History on May 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

札の辻
Fuda no Tsuji (bulletin board crossroads)

Spoiler Alert: This is the commemorative plaque set up by Minato Ward.

Spoiler Alert: This is the commemorative plaque set up by Minato Ward.

I often walk around sections of Tōkyō that Edoites would have recognized as 日比谷 Hibiya[i], 新橋 Shinbashi[ii], 芝 Shiba[iii], 三田 Mita[iv], 高輪 Takanawa[v], and 品川 Shinagawa[vi]. The boundaries and names of these areas have been a little fluid over the centuries, but those are the sweeping Edo Period names of these large districts. Today, things are a bit more specific. When walking from present day 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park towards present day 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park, I always pass an overhanging sign for drivers that points in the direction of a place called 札の辻 Fuda no Tsuji. I always thought to myself, “I should look into that someday.” And guess what? My lazy ass has never done it. So having seen the sign a thousand times, I finally decided to look into it.

I soon found out that this isn’t actually an official Tōkyō place name anymore. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, it’s never been an “official” place name. It was a nickname the area has held on to for dear life since the 1700’s when it was inadvertently stolen[vii].

Today, there is a small plaque (shown above) explaining the history of the area – and when I say small, I mean it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the darkness of this place, nor does it do justice to how important the area actually was to the first 100 some odd years of Edo under the Tokugawa.

This is a depiction of Fuda no Tsuji in Nagoya. The place name is common throughout Japan. Even though this is Nagoya, I hope that when you finish this article, you'll be able to spot the similarities and differences between the Edo-Tokyo location and the Nagoya location.

This is a depiction of Fuda no Tsuji in Nagoya. The place name is common throughout Japan.
Even though this is Nagoya, I hope that when you finish this article, you’ll be able to spot the similarities and differences between the Edo-Tokyo location and the Nagoya location.

First Let’s Look at the Kanji

This place name is simple. It’s made of 2 kanji:


fuda, satsu

a notice, a posted bulletin


tsuji

a street corner, a crossroads, an intersection
A traditional Japan sign (fuda).

A traditional Japan sign (fuda).

The second kanji is really interesting to me because it’s 国字 kokuji, a kanji created in Japan. That is to say, it wasn’t imported from China. I’m 100% sure the Chinese had intersections for thousands of years, but for some reason the Japanese saw fit to create this unique character. It’s not a rare character at all either. It’s so common in Japan that it’s used in a lot of family names and place names throughout the country.

A random photo of a Taisho Period intersection. Modern Japanese cities are generally huddled together close knit towns and so intersections have always been very important. This photo includes a "police box" which emphasizes the importance and centrality of this particular location.

A random photo of a Taisho Period intersection. Modern Japanese cities are generally huddled together close knit towns and so intersections have always been very important. This photo includes a “police box” which emphasizes the importance and centrality of this particular location.

The first character is also extremely high frequency. Its provenance isn’t as important as its association with this place name. The consensus seems to be that it was shorthand for two concepts.

高札
kōsatsu

a bulletin board, official signage (a general term)

制札
seisatsu

official posted regulations and prohibitions of a daimyō or the shōgunate (a specific term)

People don’t learn the rules by osmosis, and they certainly didn’t have the internet, so yeah, you put a sign in a high trafficked area and hoped people would read it and share with their friends. In Edo, these spots were called 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board areas, but modern Japanese just call them 高札場 kōsatsuba[viii]. There were at least thirty-five official shōgunate-controlled o-kōsatsuba in Edo. 6 were designated as 大高札場 daikōsatsuba[ix] major bulletin board sites. The major bulletin boards were placed on the main routes into the city. Of course, local towns and villages within Edo-Tōkyō had their own bulletin boards, so it’s impossible to guess how many notice boards existed at any one time in the city until quite recently.

The word 高札 is usually rendered as kōsatsu, which is the 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading. In 訓読み kun’yomi, the Japanese reading, the word can be rendered as takafuda. In the city of Edo, a minor bulletin would be a fuda. But a major bulletin (ie; one issued by the shōgunate) would have been a takafuda – literally a “high announcement.” And yes, these so-called takafuda/kōsatsu were actually larger and posted higher than other announcements.

But to sum it up, Fuda no Tsuji means “the message board intersection.” There are other places throughout Japan with the same name (or some variation thereof). But in short, etymologically speaking, this is about as fucking banal as it gets.

Luckily, there’s much more to this story than the name and believe me, we’re going to get into all of it.

You can see the name Fuda no Tsuji on this overpass.

You can see the name Fuda no Tsuji on this overpass.

But First!

What Does an Edo Period Bulletin Board Look Like?

That is an excellent question!  If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve definitely seen the modern version. But if you’ve been to an 温泉町 onsen machi hot spring town or 宿場町 shukuba machi an old post town that eke their existences out of maintaining a traditional “Old Japan” atmosphere, you’ve probably seen the most traditional version. To be sure, you’ll absolutely see them in the Tōkyō Metropolis. In fact, one of the best preserved examples of one is in 府中 Fuchū[x] located in western Tōkyō.

An old kosatsuba (I believe this one is from Nagano on the Nakasendo highway, but don't quote me on that).

An old kosatsuba (I believe this one is from Nagano on the Nakasendo highway, but don’t quote me on that).

One of the major kosatsuba of Edo, was this one located in Nihonbashi. Note that it's propped up on stone base. This must have sucked for people with bad eyesight - remember no glasses back then.

One of the major kosatsuba of Edo, was this one located in Nihonbashi. Note that it’s propped up on stone base.
This must have sucked for people with bad eyesight – remember no glasses back then.

This is the Edo Period kosatsuba preserved in Fuchu. It's pretty impressive. Obviously there are no active announcements on it.

This is the Edo Period kosatsuba preserved in Fuchu. It’s pretty impressive. Obviously there are no active announcements on it.

So Let’s Take a Look at the History

But just a quick warning: In this article we’re going to breeze through the reign of the 2nd and 3rd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, the establishment of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and the first 6 shōguns. The details of these rulers aren’t very important to the story of Fuda no Tsuji, but the more you know about Japanese history, the more you will appreciate having them in the background[xi]. For my J-History padawans, skipping the names and dates of the rulers is fair game.

The reason I bring this up is that we’re going to have to look at the persecution and subsequent annihilation of Christianity in Japan. It’s tangential to our story, but so are the people who played a major role in it. We’re going to burn the Christians in a few paragraphs, so those of you with short attention spans may want to stick around.

names & dates

Some Names to Remember

織田信長
Oda Nobunaga
1534-1582

A daimyō warlord, often called the first of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.

豊臣秀吉
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
1536ish-1598

A daimyō warlord who rose from commoner status to imperial regent. Although he is often considered the 2nd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, he pretty much unified Japan. He was an awesome general, but kind of a shit ruler.

徳川家康
Tokugawa Ieyasu
1543-1616

A daimyō warlord who was the 3rd Great Unifier of Japan and by that I mean, he actually unified the realm and established a dynasty and a peace that lasted more than 250 years. He was granted the rank of shōgun.

徳川秀忠
Tokugawa Hidetada
1579-1632

The 2nd shōgun and first stage of creating a Tokugawa hegemony. He initiated building projects that enhanced Tokugawa power and started a trend of ignoring foreign relations.

徳川家光
Tokugawa Iemitsu
1604-1651

The 3rd shōgun. He was the first shōgun who wasn’t a Sengoku Period warlord. He continued isolationist policies and focused on enhancing Tokugawa power.

徳川家綱
Tokugawa Ietsuna
1641-1680

The 4th shōgun. He could be considered the first real Edo Period shōgun. He focused on internal issues and rejected foreign notions.

徳川綱吉
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
1646-1709

The 5th shōgun. Too complex to get into now, but his reign was marked by many cultural events.

徳川家宣
Tokugawa Ienobu
1662-1712

The 6th shōgun. Nobody gives a shit about this guy today, but I’m sure he thought he was pretty important at the time.
Pop Quiz!!! I'll give a cupcake to whomever can tell me which shogun this is.

Pop Quiz!!!
I’ll give a cupcake to whomever can tell me which shogun this is.

A Very Different Sight than Today

Visually speaking, the area isn’t much to look at today. But before WWII, this area sat on the coast of Edo Bay[xii]. A traditional highway called the 東海道 Tōkaidō[xiii] “the eastern coastal route” followed the coastline of Edo Bay. This highway had connected 関東 Kantō with the imperial court in 京都 Kyōto since at least the Heian Period. By the time 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu became lord of the 8 Kantō Provinces and established his capital in Edo in the 1590’s, the Tōkaidō was already the main access point to the city. At the beginning of the Edo Period, you would have seen a wide highway of dirt and stone and small clusters of tea houses and other merchant buildings that lined the road. The view of the bay must have been stunning. On a clear day, you probably could have seen 常陸国 Hitachi no Kuni Hitachi Province[xiv] on the far end of the bay. The area was famous for 月見 tsukimi moon viewing. Rich commoners and samurai alike would come to the tea houses that dotted the coast to indulge in a little drinking and whoring and watch the moon move across the sky while reflected in the calm waters of the bay.

The famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku that I've posted hundreds of times.  Yeah, so... it's near Fuda no Tsuji.

The famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku that I’ve posted hundreds of times.
Yeah, so… it’s near Fuda no Tsuji.

Fuda no Tsuji was a fork in the road for the Tōkaidō highway. If you were coming to Edo you were traveling eastward. On the left side of the road was an unnamed street that entered a commoners’ town and led to 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi (near present day Tōkyō Tower). Today that street is called 三田通り Mita Dōri Mita Street. The Tōkaidō itself continued eastward until it terminated at 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the terminus of the 五街道 Go Kaidō 5 Great Highways of Edo[xv]. Because this fork in the road was a major access point to the shōgun’s capital, the area was chosen as a major bulletin board site. Any unique rules of the capital, new proclamations, announcements, and coupons for TGI Fridays were posted here[xvi].

Here you can see the Tokaido (eastern coastal road) and its intersection with the road this is called Mita Dori today.

Here you can see the Tokaido (eastern coastal road) and its intersection with the road this is called Mita Dori today.

On a modern map, the only real difference is the fact that the land has been built out so far that the shape of the bay is very different. The intersection is the same, though.

On a modern map, the only real difference is the fact that the land has been built out so far that the shape of the bay is very different. The intersection is the same, though.

Disturbances of the Peace and those Pesky Christians

If you know anything about Japanese history and Christianity, you probably know that this isn’t going to end for somebody and there’s a 99% chance that the somebody is a Christian. There’s also a good chance that there will be an ol’ fashioned burning at the stake. Yee haw.

Since the 1590’s, Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled the Kantō provinces from his new capital of Edo[xvii]. In 1603, Ieyasu was granted the title 征夷大将軍 Sei’i Tai-Shōgun Great General Who Conquers the Barbarians by 後陽成天皇 Go-Yōzei Tennō Emperor Go-Yōzei[xviii] and was basically the supreme power in Japan. Once he felt he had settled in and had gotten his house in order, he retired in 1605. This allowed his son 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada to become the second shōgun which assured a smooth dynastic transition of power. Ieyasu assumed the title 大御所 ōgosho (essentially, “retired guy who sits off stage but is very much still pulling the strings”). Things were more or less peaceful, but there were still factions holding out here and there, particularly among the relatives and supporters of the deceased 豊臣秀吉Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Ōsaka and the foreign Christian population and the Japanese Christian population. About 7-8 years into shōgun Hidetada’s reign, things started to come to a head.

The Ōsaka discussion is another topic unto itself, but needless to say, in the winter of 1614 to the summer of 1615, the retired shōgun Ieyasu and reigning shōgun Hidetada laid siege to 大阪城 Ōsaka-jō Ōsaka Castle. Also in 1614, Ieyasu promulgated an edict that echoed Hideyoshi’s 1587 expulsion of Christians from Japan. Ieyasu wanted to secure his 天下 tenka realm under his family’s control and these 2 groups were causing the most trouble. The Hideyoshi supporters were actually the least of his concern because that could be solved by a clear political and military action. The Christians could have proven more difficult, but after overstaying their welcome and somewhat utilitarian convenience by 27 years, the Christians were just a foreign infection that needed to be stamped out before they spread more.

Daimyō loyal to the Tokugawa began expelling and executing Christians. Forced de-conversions of the Japanese elite became commonplace. Foreigners who weren’t granted express permission to be in the country were expelled or sent to special foreign trade settlements. Japan was quickly becoming a so-called “closed country[xix].”

This is a 踏み絵 (fumi-e). The anti-Christian movement wanted Christians to step on and grind into the ground Christian imagery to prove they weren't Christians.

This is a 踏み絵 (fumi-e). The anti-Christian movement wanted Christians to step on and grind into the ground Christian imagery to prove they weren’t Christians.

Keep Out!

In 1616, retired shōgun Ieyasu died and reigning shōgun Hidetada ordered the installation of an 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board area at the aforementioned intersection of the Tōkaidō road and the unnamed street in 芝 Shiba that led towards 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi[xx] – that is to say, the place where you were getting within walking distance of Edo Castle. The shōgunate felt that any travelers – be they merchants or daimyō – needed to know the local manners before they entered the city. In short, if you diverged from the Tōkaidō here, you were entering the shōgun’s domain and you best act proper, son. You are now entering Edo.

It’s about this time that the local people began referring to the area as the 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji “bulletin board intersection.” It was definitely a landmark on a highly trafficked road. The local residents were clearly proud of the fact that this intersection was officially endorsed as an entrance to the city.

In this awesome picture of Tokiwabashi (bridge) and Tokiwabashi Go-Mon (gate), you can see the large kosatsuba. This was also one of the 6 main kosatsuba of Edo.

In this awesome picture of Tokiwabashi (bridge) and Tokiwabashi Go-Mon (gate), you can see the large kosatsuba. This was also one of the 6 main kosatsuba of Edo.

Time to Burn Some Christians[xxi]

The shōgunate was slowly realizing that one of the main precepts of Christianity was proselytization. That meant they felt there was a real possibility of a “Christian conquest” – or at the very least an effort to destabilize the new Tokugawa peace. Furthermore, the Catholics in the country were loyal to a mysterious distant king called “the pope” whose influence was strong in many European countries. What if this pope guy started meddling in the affairs of the Tokugawa shōgunate?

The second shōgun, Hidetada, was not about to let his family’s newly acquired status go to waste, and so he put into motion processes that would ultimately extinguish Christianity in Japan. But essentially he was just reinforcing the earlier anti-Christian edicts of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu.

In 1622, 55 Christians in Nagasaki who had refused to renounce their religion were punished. Some were beheaded, but the most obstinate offenders were burned alive. The Christian problem in Edo continued to build because the persecution laws weren’t enforced in a uniform way. Foreigners and their foreign religions were still somewhat tolerated[xxii]. But in the same year, Hidetada stepped down as shōgun, and elevated his son 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu to the rank of shōgun. As 大御所 ōgosho (retired shōgun), Hidetada watched over the 19 year old shōgun, as did the 老中 rōjū senior council.

In 1623, an order to burn 50 Christians at the stake was issued in Iemitsu’s name[xxiii]. Since executions meant to send a message, Fuda no Tsuji – the proverbial genkan[xxiv] of Edo – was chosen as the spot. As you can imagine, anyone coming into the shōgun’s capital (and anyone leaving it) via the Tōkaidō would have seen this spot. Just as with the notice boards and signage, it was the perfect location to send a message to people via public execution and display.

In 1632, the retired 2nd shōgun Hidetada died and was interred in a magnificent mausoleum in Shiba. But the illegal Christian population continued to cause problems here and there. Things reached a tipping point in the winter of 1637, when 3rd shōgun Iemitsu decided to lay a massive samurai smack down on the city of 島原 Shimabara in southwestern Japan[xxv]. The local Christians and even the local daimyō paid with their lives. For all intents and purposes, this was the end of Christianity in Pre-Modern Japan[xxvi].

Christins about to get burnt alive. Ouch.

Christins about to get burnt alive. Ouch.

Moving Things Away From the Shōgun’s Castle

In 1651, the shōgunate created a new execution ground at 鈴ヶ森 Suzugamori[xxvii] on the coast of Edo Bay in品川 Shinagawa.  The city had been growing rapidly, and the city’s “spiritual purity” was seen to be at risk. Moving the executions from Fuda no Tsuji to Suzugamori was a move to keep the shōgun’s capital “untainted.”

60 years later, in 1710, the 6th shōgun 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu moved the message board to the actual border of the capital on the Tōkaidō. The new location was about 700 meters from Fuda no Tsuji in 高輪 Takanawa. The new entrance to Edo was called the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido. The name literally means “the great wooden door of Takanawa.”

When you entered a town, there was usually a 町木戸 machikido town gate guarded by at least 2 木戸番 kidoban guards – usually old men who lived on the premises of the gate. Originally, the Takanawa Ōkido functioned like one of these city gates. It was similar to a 関所 sekisho highway check point where shōgunate or domain officials checked your travel documents. The differences is machikido were located throughout the city. The gates of these machikido would close at about 10 PM and re-open at daybreak. Edo wasn’t in a complete lockdown after 10 PM, though. If you had good reason to pass through a machikido, you’d summon the 番太郎様 bantarō-sama, a friendly nickname for the guards, ask them to open the gate for you, and they’d let you pass. The guards would then strike a pair of 拍子木 hyōshigi wooden clappers to alert the guards of the next gate that a traveler was coming.

Unlike the standard wooden machikido, this grand ōkido was a wooden gate supported by 石垣 ishigaki stone walls. Whether it was due to earthquake, fire, both, or just plain decommissioned, the wooden structure ceased to be used. Artwork from 1800 shows the stone walls in place but any kind of wooden structure isn’t depicted. Artwork 1868, depicting the imperial army clearly shows the stone walls and kōsatsu (bulletins, signage), although there is a wooden pole next to the wall[xxviii]. So despite starting life as a grand doorway to Edo, the Takanawa Ōkido was essentially a glorified o-kōsatsuba bulletin board with 2 disembodied stone walls on either side of the street.

The simplest version of a machikido looked like this one at the Fukagawa Shitamachi Museum.

The simplest version of a machikido looked like this one at the Fukagawa Shitamachi Museum.

This is a more elaborate and imposing gate in Tatebayashi. It served as a checkpoint between the commoner section of town and the samurai section of town that surrounded Tatebayashi Castle.

This is a more elaborate and imposing gate in Tatebayashi. It served as a checkpoint between the commoner section of town and the samurai section of town that surrounded Tatebayashi Castle.
(If you want to see more photos of this structure, click the photo to my Tatebayashi album on Flickr.)

The Takanawa Okido in the early 1800's. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven't been able to find a single picture with a gate.  Note that the tops are overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortifications after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.

The Takanawa Okido in the early 1800’s. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven’t been able to find a single picture with a gate.
Note that the tops are overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortifications after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.
Also note that there is no kostasuba.

The Takanawa Okido in the 1830's. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven't been able to find a single picture with a gate. Note that the top is overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortification after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.

The Takanawa Okido in the 1830’s. You can see some free standing sign posts; I’m assuming those associated with the kosatsuba, but I don’t know.

This is the Takanawa Okido in 1868, after the Meiji Coup. You can see troops of the imperial army marching out of the city through the Okido. Interestingly, there is a tall wooden post on the inside of the stone wall. I'm not sure if this was a temporary structure, a late 1800's thing, or just part of the artist's imagination.

This is the Takanawa Okido in 1868, after the Meiji Coup. You can see troops of the imperial army marching out of the city through the Okido. Interestingly, there is a tall wooden post on the inside of the stone wall. I’m not sure if this was a temporary structure, a late 1800’s thing, or just part of the artist’s imagination.

Nice Story. But You’re Talking About Takanawa, not Fuda no Tsuji…

Yes, you’re right, but I wanted to give you the whole story. I also wanted to go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of the article: this isn’t an official place name today and to the best of my knowledge it was never an official place name.

When the kōsatsuba (bulletin board) was moved from the intersection in Shiba to a non-intersection in Takanawa, something new began appearing in maps. Prior to this change, the area was referred to as just 芝 Shiba or 芝口 Shibaguchi[xxix], but after the relocation, the area began to appear on maps as 旧札之辻 Kyū-Fuda no Tsuji Former Bulletin Place or even just 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji Bulletin Place. What I think we may be able to imply from this is that the literary Chinese words[xxx] that would describe the site, o-kōsatsuba “honorable bulletin board site,” hadn’t been used by the local townspeople – who were commoners. They were using the every day 江戸っ子 Edo-kko Edoite parlance “takafuda.” If this is the case, then 札の辻 fuda no tsuji “bulletin crossroad” is just a lower register of the language used by the average Tarō on the street.

A map showing the intersection in 1868.

A map showing the intersection in 1868.
Interestingly, this map refers to the area in a variant of the popular place name Dōbō-chō which means “monk town.”

So What’s Left Of This Area?

After the notice boards were moved to Takanawa, the execution site of Christians in 1624 and 1639 was replaced with a Buddhist temple called 智福寺 Chifuku-ji[xxxi]. The temple had a grand residence for the monks, all of whom were closely associated with the shōgunate. In nearby 三田三丁目 Mita San-chōme is an area called 同朋町 Dōbō-chō, literally “buddy town.” 同朋 dōhō/dōbō refers to monks who are pursuing the same spiritual pursuits. (This is also a common place name around Japan). I’m not sure about their intentions, but one can imagine the shōgunate wanted to purify the area where they had executed numerous Christians so close to the castle – thus creating a “Buddhist monk town.” The temple doesn’t exist today, but on the site there is a monument honoring those killed. However, just like Fuda no Tsuji, Dōbō-chō isn’t an official postal address. But also just like Fuda no Tsuji, it’s used by the locals and appears on signs and maps.

A shinkansen rolling under Fuda no Tsuji Bridge.

A shinkansen rolling under Fuda no Tsuji Bridge.

Today, much of these stories aren’t known except by people who actually live in the area and bothered reading the signs. However, the area is apparently well known among 新幹線オタク shinkansen otaku shinkansen geeks because there is a curve in the tracks and they think they can get dynamic photos of the trains coming around the bend. But to be honest, I think it’s a brutally ugly area to take photos. There’s just a gaggle of tracks and wires and very little greenery. 11 sets of tracks cross through this area, so the city built a bridge called 札の辻橋 Fuda no Tsuji Hashi Fuda no Tsuji Bridge. The bridge is where the train geeks go with their cameras to get full view of trains coming around the corner. In addition to the shinkansen, the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line, 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku-sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line pass through this spot.

Kamezuka Park, long thought to be a kofun (pre-historic tumulus), turned out just to be a kids park.

Kamezuka Park, long thought to be a kofun (pre-historic tumulus), turned out just to be a kids park.

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Also in the area is a certain 亀塚公苑 Kamezuka Kōen Kamezuka Park. Located on a large hill, the area was home to the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence of the lords of 沼田藩 Numata Han Numata Domain in 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province (more or less modern day 群馬県 Gunma Ken Gunma Prefecture). After the Meiji Coup, the residence was given to the 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya Kachō imperial princes, a collateral imperial family established during the Bakumatsu. A single wall of that post-Edo Period mansion still exists today in the park. The Kachō princes typically underperformed and actually went extinct at one point, requiring another imperial relative to assume the name to keep it going. Until the end of WWII, the family was called 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya indicating their imperial lineage. However, after the war, all imperial branches – except for the direct imperial line – were dissolved and theoretically reduced to commoner status. If I’m not mistaken, the last surviving Kachō died in 1970.

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Some of the surviving walls of the Kacho family's estate.

Some of the surviving walls of the Kacho family’s estate.

That Imperial Family Shit Was So Unnecessary

Sorry, they were in the neighborhood, but, yeah, I went off on a tangent – but think of it as added value. But, you’re right. It’s time to wind down and bring this article to a finish. So, yeah. Fuda no Tsuji. Sign posts. Gates. Highways. Edo Bay.

In short, Fuda no Tsuji was a place were a major sign post was located at one of the entrances to Edo in Shiba (Mita). The location served as an execution ground on an occasion or two. The execution ground was moved to Shinagawa. The bulletin boards were moved to Takanawa where a major check point was built that didn’t last long. The reference to the old sign stuck. Fuda no Tsuji. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

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[i] I have an article about Hibiya here.
[ii] I have an article about Shinbashi here.
[iii] I have an article about Shiba here.
[iv] I have an article about Mita here.
[v] I have an article about Takanawa here.
[vi] My article about Shinagawa is the same as my Takanawa article.
[vii] Long story. Hence the long blog.
[viii] Compare Odaiba which derives from 御台場 o-daiba, originally from 台場 daiba . I have an article about Odaiba here.
[ix] To be honest, I’m not exactly sure about the reading of this word, it could also have been ōtakafudaba. I’ll address the discrepancy a little bit later. But regardless, the meaning is the same.
[x] My 2 part series on Chōfu was supposed to be a 3 part series which would have included Fuchū, but I wanted to take a break from cute young girls bleaching cloth in the river to move on to a few other topics. I will cover Fuchū eventually. Don’t worry.
[xi] If we discussed some small event in early American history, you’d want to know who was president at the time….
[xii] Obviously, Tōkyō Bay today.
[xiii] I have an article about the main highways of the Edo Period.
[xiv] Modern day 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. By the way this “Hitachi” has nothing to do with the famous company that has given the world the Hitachi Magic Wand – widely regarded as the most intense vibrator on earth. That company’s kanji are 日立 Hitachi and mean “rising sun.”
[xv] I have an excellent article about the 5 Great Highways of Edo that I know you’d love to read!
[xvi] Apparently, TGI Fridays was huuuuuuge in Edo.
[xvii] He was originally from 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province (present day 愛知県岡崎市 Aichi-ken Okazaki-shi Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture).
[xviii] The 後 go means “later” and is the equivalent to when European monarchs/popes with the same name are referred to by II, III, IV, etc. The Japanese don’t count the iteration; they just indicate that this is later usage of the same name. Long time readers will recognize this prefix from the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō clan who modeled their clan name off the 北条氏 Hōjō-shi Hōjō clan. At Samurai Archives, you can read about the Hōjō and the Late Hōjō. Oh, sorry, if you’re interested in the emperor himself (which you’re probably not because no one ever is), you can read more about him here.
[xix] A lot of people bicker about the use of the terms 鎖国 sakoku closed country and 海禁 kaikin maritime restrictions to describe Tokugawa foreign policy, but I actually like both terms. Clearly at this point, there are some maritime restrictions, but soon things will get very North Korea-esque (closed country, anyone?). That said, for the average Joe on the street, Japan would become a closed country. For the reality of certain conduits of trade, Japan was just a severely restricted country. As much as I love Japan now, the closest modern analogy is North Korea.
[xx] I have an article about Akabanebashi here. It also comes up in my articles on Huesken, Kiyokawa, and, Kiyokawa’s grave.
[xxi] After all, that’s probably why you’re still reading anyways, you sick fucks.
[xxii] And until you’re told to kill someone for believing some different religion, I imagine the average Japanese person didn’t really want to hate or kill these people. The feudal lords and the Tokugawa Shōgunate itself were benefiting from information, technology, and trade imported by westerners.
[xxiii] I can totally see an impulsive 19 year old burning people at the stake and Iemitsu could be the guy who did it. But it could have been Hidetada or the senior council who pushed him to do it. It’s fair to say we don’t know who actually pushed for this action the most.
[xxiv] This is my term. A 玄関 genkan is the entrance of a Japanese house. When entering a Japanese home, there is a small area at ground level for taking off your shoes and stashing your umbrellas. Then you enter the home by stepping up on to the elevated floor of the house.
[xxv] It’s usually painted as a religious smack down, but actually, the causes of the Shimabara Rebellion go beyond religious issues. But for the flow of this article, I’m staying with the religious narrative for the sake of being concise.
[xxvi] Christianity re-emerged in the Bakumatsu but even today only small segment of the population will admit to believing it. Christians make up about 1% of the population, and most of them are in Tōkyō. While modern Japan isn’t officially anti-Christian, the country is more or less secular and crucified zombie god myths don’t go over so well here.
[xxvii] Check out my article on Suzugamori here.
[xxviii] This may just be symbolic or the artist may have misremembered the scene.
[xxix] As I also alluded to at the beginning of this article, the place names of Mita, Shiba, and Hibiya are very fluid. They warrant another article in and of themselves. So for this article let’s not worry about borders and what not.
[xxx] But to be honest only the “kōsatsu” part is the Chinese reading. The honorific “o-” and the suffix “ba” are both the Japanese readings.
[xxxi] I’m fuzzy on the details. The temple may have existed previously to attend graves and funerary rites of the executed, but I don’t know.

What does Tamachi mean?

In Japanese History on May 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm

田町
Tamachi (field town, rice paddy town)

Tamachi Station in the rain

Tamachi Station in the rain

Let’s Get the Kanji Out of the Way First


ta, da, den
field, rice paddy

machi, chō
town, neighborhood

Present day 田町 Tamachi is a stop on the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line snuggled between 品川 Shinagawa and 浜松町 Hamamatsu-chō[i]. It’s also home of 慶応大学 Keiō Daigaku Keiō University established by 福沢諭吉 Fukuzawa Yukichi whose countenance graces the ¥10,000 note[ii]. It’s also home to one of the best burger shops in Tōkyō, Munch’s Burger Shack[iii].

Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator and innovator in Japan.

Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator and innovator in Japan.

Today there is no official area called Tamachi. In its most limited sense, the name Tamachi refers to the area directly surrounding 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station (which is technically located in 芝 Shiba). In its broadest sense, it is used to refer to a vague area in Shiba and the edge of 三田 Mita). There was an area known as 芝田町 Shiba-Tamachi until 1947 when the 23 wards were restructured.

Today you can take a stroll down Keio Naka-dori Shoten-gai. It's a bunch of izakaya and drinking/eating places that retain some of the Edo aesthetic.

Today you can take a stroll down Keio Naka-dori Shoten-gai. It’s a bunch of izakaya and drinking/eating places that retain a tiny bit of the Edo aesthetic.

Theory #1
Tamachi – Field Town

The most commonly given etymology is that the area was more or less plots of land used by farmers (it’s unclear whether vegetables or rice). With the development of Edo Bay by the Tokugawa Shōgunate, a merchant town was established in the area and given the rustic name 田町 Tamachi, literally “town in the fields.” This explanation is bolstered by the fact that the name Tamachi first appears in the Edo Period and that the town was located near the sea and the 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkai Highway, both factors that would have necessitated and encouraged the growth of new merchant towns as the shōgun’s capital grew.

For the non-samurai, non-merchant population of Old Japan, this was your reality. No wonder Hideyoshi locked the classes down. He more than anyone knew that if you wanted to end the

For the non-samurai, non-merchant population of Old Japan, this was your reality.
No wonder Hideyoshi locked the classes down. He more than anyone knew that if you wanted to end the “warring states” period, you HAD to tie people to this work.

Theory #2
Mita Machi – Honorable/Divine Rice Paddy Town

Another theory ties into the origin of the place name Mita, which is right next to former Shiba-Tamchi. This theory points at evidence that there was a special set of rice paddies here that were under direct control of the Emperor (in the late Heian Period) and later, the Kamakura Shōgunate. This kind of rice paddy was called a 御田 mita “honorable rice paddy.” A related theory states that the type of rice paddy here was actually a 神田 mita[iv] “divine rice paddy.” This rice would be sent as offerings to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture and nearby 御田八幡宮 Mita Hachiman-gū Mita Hachiman Shrine[v]. Whichever it was, an honorable rice paddy or divine rice paddy, it appears the name Mita is quite ancient and we do find 御田 Mita honorable rice paddy in the historical record and in the name of the shrine[vi].

rice tamachi

Rice paddies don’t change over the ages.

At any rate, at some point in history, the town 御田町 Mita Machi came to be written with the more easily recognized kanji 三田町 Mita Machi. The area near present day Tamachi Station preserved the old writing but people were mistakenly reading the name as 御田町 O-tamachi honorable field town and eventually just dropped what they perceived as an honorific 御 o (because usually town names don’t get honorific prefixes) and the place name was reduced to 田町 Tamachi, literally “field town.”

Furthermore, in the Edo Period, there were many 藩邸 hantei daimyō residences in the area and so you would have had samurai from all over Japan speaking their own dialects and having some idiosyncratic rules about kanji use. As a new pair of Edo dialects came to emerge under Tokugawa rule, it’s not unreasonable to imagine 御田町 Mita Machi being read as O-tamachi, especially when compared to nearby 三田町 Mita Machi which is relatively unambiguous in this part of Japan[vii].

Living in the suburbs of Edo was nice. Rustic, but nice. Repeat to yourself, the Yamanote was forested like most of Japan was.

Living in the suburbs of Edo was nice. Rustic, but nice. Repeat to yourself, the Yamanote was forested like most of Japan was.

I’m gonna say right now that there’s not much of a chance of knowing the etymology for sure, but a mixture of those two stories is my pet theory. But wait, there’s something pretty hilarious that’s gonna happen.

One of the greatest idiots of the Meiji Coup: Saigo Takamori. Typical imo zamurai of the time.

One of the greatest idiots of the Meiji Coup: Saigo Takamori.

Theory #3
Edoites Were Making Fun of People From Satsuma

OK, this is going to require a little cultural background.

My favorite theory (but I don’t believe it for a minute) is based on the fact that one of the first daimyō residences built here was that of 薩摩藩 Satsuma-han Satsuma Domain. One of Satsuma’s 名物 meibutsu famous things was (and still is) the 薩摩芋 Satsuma Imo Satsuma potato, also known as sweet potato. The classic Edo Period put down for a country bumpkin was 芋 imo potato[viii]. The refined Edo samurai wouldn’t think twice about referring to country samurai as 芋侍 imo zamurai filthy, dirt grubbing potato samurai – an epithet that resonates with the same sort of disdain and contempt with which Tokugawa Ieyasu viewed former dirt grubbing farmer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi [ix]. It’s classism at its best[x].

Shimazu Yoshihiro, lord of Satsuma at the Battle of Sekigahara and the Osaka Campaigns when the Tokugawa eradicated the last real military resistance to their hegemony.

Shimazu Yoshihiro, lord of Satsuma at the Battle of Sekigahara when the Tokugawa eradicated the last real military resistance to their hegemony.
Spoiler Alert!
(He drops the ball).

The lords of Satsuma, the 島津氏 Shimazu-shi Shimazu clan, were 外様大名 tozama daimyō outer lords during the Edo Period because… well, they were on the losing side of the Battle of Sekigahara, when Tokugawa Ieyasu more or less won control of the majority of Japan. But the Shimazu clan was descended from the progenitor of the first of the three great shōgunates, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura shōgunate. They had pedigree, so Ieyasu didn’t make them relinquish their territory. As a result, they had control of trade routes and received tribute from the Ryūkyū Islands (modern Okinawa). They also had a vast, productive territory that often acted like an independent state. And while the 1st Tokugawa shōgun, Ieyasu, was lenient to them despite fucking up big time at the Battle of Sekigahara, the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu, who worshiped Ieyasu, dealt with them quite coldly. One gets the impression that far off Satsuma held a grudge for being left on the outside.

3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.

3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.
“Shimazu? Y’all was a bunch of treacherous bitches. Eat a bag of dicks!”
That’s a literal quote, by the way.

But back to this Edo Period put down thing. In short, they were from the farthest limits of Japan[xi], they were famous a simple, dirty tuber that grows in the dirt[xii]. This theory says that the local Edoites and Edo samurai mocked Satsuma by calling the area 田町 Tamachi field town. They were a domain subjugated by local hero Tokugawa Ieyasu, they were from the country and they were no better than filthy, stinky, sweaty, dirt eating farmers.

This is a colorful story and was no doubt made up by imaginative Edoites. But in my honest opinion, this is utterly ridiculous. As much as I hate Satsuma’s role in the 幕末 bakumatsu end of the shōgunate, and as much as I hate the role of Satsuma’s elite in the oligarchy that sent Japan on a collision course with WWII, I don’t think the shōgunate would have tolerated anyone mocking a clan as rich, powerful, and connected as the Shimazu unless the family had been shamed and abolished by Ieyasu – which they weren’t. They had strong negotiating power and as such had a unique relationship with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. They even married into the Tokugawa Shōgun Family in the final days of the Edo Period[xiii].

Anyways, as much as I would love this to be true, the Shimazu were not the laughing stock of the Edo Period that this theory makes them out to be. And now you know how to mock people from the countryside in Japan. Just add 芋 imo before any noun[xiv].

Tamachi Today

One of Tamachi's crowning jewel's is the NEC world headquarters. I used to work in this building. The top of the building is narrow, buts the base is built on a sprawling lot. I'll get back to that in a minute.

One of Tamachi’s crowning jewel’s is the NEC world headquarters. I used to work in this building. The top of the building is narrow, but the base is built on a sprawling lot.
I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Quite a few daimyō had residences in the area, but the most famous was 薩摩藩 Satsuma-han who had their massive 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here. It was a sprawling suburban palace on the outskirts of Edo. Unfortunately, nothing remains of it today, but the entire lot is now the world headquarters of NEC[xv]. A few other major manufacturing companies are in the area: Mitsubishi Motors and Morinaga (a sweets company).

Tamachi Station has this super-70's dasai 3D mural (mosaic?) that no one notices. But if you look closely it's Saigo Takamori and Katstu Kaishu drinking sake together in a traditional meeting. There is also a

Tamachi Station has this super-70’s dasai 3D mural (mosaic?) that no one notices. But if you look closely it’s Saigo Takamori and Katstu Kaishu drinking sake together in a traditional meeting. There is also a “kurofune” (black ship) flying out to space.
It’s brutally ugly. And the only thing that is really interesting about it is the fact that they used Saigo Nanshu as a name instead of Saigo Takamori.
This was the name he used when writing Chinese poetry.

In closing, I’d like to say that Tamachi’s role in Japanese history is mostly defined by a meeting (or series of meetings) between 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū, a hatamoto of the Tokugawa, and 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori, an imo zamurai from Satsuma. One of the highest ranking women in Edo Castle was 篤姫 Atsu-hime Princess Atsu who was of the Satsuma Shimazu clan and was married to Tokugawa Iesada, the 13th shōgun (I alluded to this earlier). Katsu Kaishū, as a direct retainer of the Tokugawa was dependent on them for his income. During the collapse of the Tokugawa regime, he was a genius at working within the system to change the system. He knew Tokugawa hegemony had to end and helped various groups work to that end.

I love Katsu Kaishu!

Undoubtedly (IMHO) the biggest bad ass and biggest hero of the Bakumatsu, Katsu Kaishu. After Ii Naosuke was assassinated, he was the only Japanese guy who could communicate reality to imo zamurai.

However, he never sold out the Tokugawa. When the newly formed Meiji Army marched on Edo it was led by that imo-zamurai, Saigō Takamori. He threatened to march on the city (which would probably have burned the city) or burn Edo Castle (which in turn would probably have burned the city). Katsu Kaishū negotiated a peaceful surrender of the Edo Castle – I’ve heard Atsu had a hand in this, too. The Tokugawa left the castle and 1,000,000 lives were spared a horrific holocaust at the hands of Satsuma and Chōshū. This meant Edo lived to see another day… albeit with a new name, Tōkyō.

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[i] Although, a new station is being built between Shinagawa and Tamachi, so this dynamic will change in the future.
[ii] And was one of the first Japanese dignitaries to travel abroad at the end of the Edo Period.
[iii] If you go, always remember that Japanese “rare” means “still twitching,” “medium” is “rare,” “well-done” is “medium,” and “very well done” is probably still a little pink. While some chefs have mastered the art of the hamburger, most of them fail on the cooking front because who the fuck eats a rare hamburger?? Welcome to sushi-land. The Japanese love that shit.
[iv] 神田 has multiple readings, shinden and kanda being the most common. The latter being a topic I will discuss at some point in the near future. Wink wink. That said, the reading of and as /mi/ is quite ancient and really sounds like it’s associated with the imperial courts at Heian Kyō or Nara. I feel like there’s a close connection to Shintō in that reading. But that’s just my impression.
[v] The shrine is not in its original location, though it is near Tamachi Station even today. The shrine still uses the original spelling 御田 and not the modern 三田. The shrine was founded in 709.
[vi] There’s nothing saying both weren’t true – or that the similarities are related, ie; it’s a kind of Heian Period or Kamakura Period kanji joke.
[vii] It was a long time ago, so I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but I tried to tackle this problem last year in my article on Mita. (edit: Just had a look and the article is pretty short, but wouldn’t be a waste of your time).
[viii] This pejorative use of 芋 imo potato is still around, actually.
[ix] While Ieyasu never called Hideyoshi a hick (they grew up in roughly the same part of Japan), he detested Hideyoshi because of his low birth (he was a dirty, dirt grubbing farmer) and the high rank he had achieved (he united Japan under his control, made all the daimyō pledge allegiance to him, and became the regent of the emperor). Ieyasu didn’t like that shit one bit. Just as the shōgunate vilified Hideyoshi in the histories, the tozama daimyō (outer lords) were branded as “outer” for all of the Edo Period. Add to that the fact that city people always look down on the dirty, uneducated, uncouth, and unsophisticated people from outside of the city. Edoites were no different. The elite samurai of Edo definitely viewed themselves as the cultural and moral superiors of those country samurai.
[x] Worst?
[xi] Literally, the southernmost region of Kyūshū and – at the time – the southernmost region of Japan.
[xii] Satsuma imo was not well known in Kantō before the Edo Period. The system of alternate attendance brought goods from all over Japan to Edo. That said, Satsuma imo was popular with women, not men. It was thought to be good for beautiful skin.
[xiii] More about this in a minute.
[xiv] JapanThis does not endorse mocking or discriminating against people on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status.
[xv] To the best of my knowledge NEC has no connection to Satsuma.

What does Suitengumae mean?

In Japanese History on April 27, 2014 at 5:18 pm

水天宮前
Suitengūmae
(in front of water heaven, more at “in front of Suiten-gū”)

shrine honden

 

This is a reader request, but I think I can answer it quickly – or at least I’ll try.

Firstly, I have to say this. There is no place called Suitengūmae in Tōkyō. This is the name of a Tōkyō Metro train station. The surrounding area may be referred to as Suitengūmae by the locals, but it’s not a postal address. Such is the life of a city dominated by such an expansive and exacting train system.

I’ve never used the train station before, but I have been to the area before. Officially, the area is known as 日本橋蛎殻町 Nihonbashi Kakigara-chō[i]. I don’t think most Tōkyōites know this postal code unless they live or work in the area. However, pretty much everyone will know the origin of this place name… err, I mean, this station name.

 

Subway stations... hehehehe.

Subway stations… hehehehe.

The name is derived from the famous 水天宮 Suiten-gū Suiten Shrine. Saying you visited this shrine is synonymous with saying “I’m pregnant.[ii]” The attraction to this is that 天御中主神 Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is enshrined here. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe she/he is the hermaphroditic creator of the universe in Shintō cosmology[iii]. Anyways, by some Shintō thought, this kami is said to be the first kami. So, the idea of creation is strong, thus the connection to creating babies. There are other kami enshrined here, of course, but the main visitors are expectant mothers and their families who are coming to pray for safe delivery and healthy babies.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Looking at the architecture, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a famous picture of the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of  福岡藩 Fukuoka Han Fukuoka Domain which was located in Kasumigaseki. In the picture, the mansion is built on a slope, with a large stone stairway leading up to it. Suiten-gū is built the same way.

Fukuoka Domain's upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

Fukuoka Domain’s upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

I know this is a coincidence, but imagine my surprise when I learned that this shrine was once located on the grounds of the upper residence of 久留米藩 Kurume Han Kurume Domain in 三田 Mita. Kurume is located in present day Fukuoka Prefecture[iv]. After the Meiji Coup, the Arima Family, lords of Kurume, moved to this area and rebuilt the shrine here. But the connection to Fukuoka goes deeper. 久留米水天宮 Kurume Suiten-gū located in Kurume City is the main shrine of Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami. His/her cult spread from this region and flourished during the Edo Period under the trend towards 国学 kokugaku native learning[v]. According to the Japanese Wikipedia page, there are about 25 Suiten-gū located throughout Japan, 4 of which are located in the Tōkyō Metropolis.

 

Pretty sure it's coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

Pretty sure it’s coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

 

On a slightly related note, a visit to Suiten-gū to pray for your safe delivery can always come after a visit to 東京大神宮 Tōkyō Daijingū Tōkyō Grand Shrine. This shrine was built in 1880 as part of the newly established Meiji government’s propaganda campaign to distract people from all things Tokugawa, including temples and shrines[vi]. Anyways, the shrine is known today as the place where single women go in droves to pray for a boyfriend or husband[vii]. Rurōsha has a nice blog entry about Tōkyō Grand Shrine. Check it out.

Oh, I almost forgot. Suiten-gū is part of the 人形町町七福神巡り Ningyō-chō Shichi Fukujin Meguri the Ningyō-chō Pilgrimage of the 7 Gods of Good Luck. As I’ve mentioned before, 7 Fukujin pilgrimages are popular during the New Year’s holiday. Most of the temples and shrines on this pilgrimage are minor, but when you get to Suiten-gū, you’ll find yourself at one of the busiest shrines in the area.

.

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[i] A name we may have to come back to… in the future.
[ii] I’m not even kidding here. Uploading a picture of the shrine with only the caption “Suiten-gū” onto social media is a common and modest way for Japanese girls to break the news to their friends.
[iii] Again, don’t quote me, but I think some argue that she is an idea imported from China by the 邪馬台国 Yamatai Koku, Japanized, and then spread throughout Japan by the Yamato people. Fukuoka is one of the areas assumed to have been the origin of the Yamato culture (we’ll come back to this in a moment). But if you want to know more about this kami, please read here.
[iv] In the Edo Period, these were autonomous domains ruled by separate families. Today’s Fukuoka Prefecture is a large, modern administrative unit and doesn’t correspond to the former Fukuoka Domain. Case in point, Kurume is now a city located in Fukuoka Prefecture.
[v] Without going into a too much detail, this was a nativist approach to scholarship promoted by people such as 本居宣長 Motoori Norinaga as an alternative to 漢学 kangaku Chinese learning. In the newly established Pax Tokugawa with its restriction on sea travel and trade saw a renewed interested in turning inward and parsing out the “nativist” Japanese narratives from the Chinese classics. The Chinese classics didn’t fall by the wayside, but new passion for Japan’s own contributions to its own culture came to be seen as valuable and was pursued with vigor.
[vi] I think I’ve touched on this a few times. But my most recent allusion to it was in the part about the 10 Shrines of Tōkyō in my article on Hakusan.
[vii] I’ve also been told that it’s one of the best places in Tōkyō to pick up desperate, broken women if you’re into picking up random, lonely chicks at shrines. Hey, this is apparently a thing.

What does Shirokane mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on September 17, 2013 at 6:54 pm

白金
Shirokane (Silver Coins)

Something unique in the big city!

Something unique in the big city!

Shirokane appears in a few place names

Shirokane

Shirokanedai

Shirokane-Takanawa

Shiba-Shirokane (now defunct)


So the story goes that in the 14th century, a powerful clan migrated here and took the area under their direct control and began the development and cultivation of the area. According to the legend, the family was called 柳下氏  Yanagishita  or Yagishita or Yanashita the Yanagishita clan[i]. The story goes so far as to allege the head of the clan was a certain 柳下上総之介 Yanagishita Kazusanosuke[ii] who was so rich that he was called the 白金長者 shirokane chōja the silver coin millionaire[iii]. Bear in mind that there is very little corroborating evidence to support this story.

The name Shirokane first appeared in 1559, when the so-called Late Hōjō clan granted a place called 白金村  Shirokane Mura Shirokane Village to the great grandson of Ōta Dōkan. But the story I just told you doesn’t appear until the late Edo Period.

If you don't know what you're looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

According to the experts, of which I ain’t one, judging from the topography there clearly was a pre-Azuchi-Momoyama fortress in the area[iv], which at least indicates that some powerful lord lived in the area before the coming of the Tokugawa. The ruins, which are just embankments and plateaux today, can be seen in Shirokanedai at the 国立自然教育園 Shizen Kyōikuen National Park for the Study of Nature. You can see their busted ass English website here. I haven’t been to this place myself, but it seems that the hills and ridgeways are the remains of the original earthen fortifications. This Japanese website goes into some detail on the topic.

Again, I’m not an expert on castles, but in the Kamakura Period, this area fell under the domain of the clans such as the Edo and the Shibuya. One of these clans may or may not have had fortresses in the area – and it’s possible that they could have – and the timing is right. Apart from the anecdotal story from the late Edo Period, the Yanagishita clan is otherwise unknown in the area.

so this is the kind of fortification we're talking about...

so this is the kind of fortification we’re talking about…

Complicating the issue, later, after the coming of the Tokugawa and the establishment of 参勤交代  sankin-kōtai the alternate attendance system, this area became home to many palatial residences of 大名 daimyō lords. In 1627, the 讃岐高松藩松平家 Sanuki no Kuni Takamatsu-han no Matsudaira-ke the Matsudaira Family of theTakamatsu Domain in Sanuki Province, a branch family of the Tokugawa, established a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here. As mentioned in my article on sankin-kōtai, of a lord’s 3 usual residences, the lower residence was usually the grandest and would have included beautiful gardens and ponds.

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family. (ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family.
(ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

In the Meiji Era[v], the imperial government set about its wholesale erasing samurai history and appropriated the sprawling palace of the Matsudaira and repurposed the land as an arsenal for the Imperial Navy. In 1893, the arsenal was transferred to the Imperial Army. In 1917, the wooded area was granted to the Imperial Forestry Bureau. In 1949, the area was finally open to the public as 国立自然教育園 Kokuritsu Shizen Kyōikuen the National Park for the Study of Nature.

OK, so this is the traditional narrative and, as mentioned, etymologically speaking it’s open to a lot of criticism. That said, the presence of fortifications there are very real.

However, another intriguing theory exists. This theory proposes that the name actually derives from a Classical Japanese phrase 城ヶ根 shiro ka ne/shiro ga ne/jō ga ne which would mean something along the lines of “the castle’s embankments” or “castle foundations.”  According to this etymology, the presence of a former lord’s castle ruins from time immemorial came to be written in more auspicious kanji, ie; 白金 shirogane/shirokane “silver” or “silver coins.” In the Edo Period, a folk etymology came to be circulated which created this Shirokane Chōja Silver Coin Millionaire character and story.

This new theory simply re-spins the traditional narrative but it doesn’t seem so cheesy. It also falls into a pattern that we’ve seen with Kantō place names that pre-date the Edo Period.  It doesn’t have widespread acceptance, but there are other place names around Japan that use the word 根 ne (literally root/source, specialized geographic meaning “ridge, embankment” in relation to a fortification). Actually, we’ve already seen a  根 ne conjecture in the etymology of Nerima.

Which is correct? I don’t know and we’ll probably never know. But that’s the thing with history, isn’t it? As much as we want a clear picture of what really happened, we’re always reaching.

Another kind of interesting thing about this place name is that it does mean “silver” or “silver coins” and to this day the area is located in the richest ward of Tokyo.

Oh, one last loose end to wrap up! So at the beginning of the article, I mentioned some other place names. The etymology of 芝 Shiba can be found here. The etymology of 高輪 Takanawa can be found here. 台 dai, on the other hand, needs a little explainin’.

The kanji is a reference to a 台地 daichi plateau. As mentioned earlier, the area was clearly fortified no less than 500 years ago. The area was probably a naturally high area, but it was intentionally built up too. Anyways, while one common meaning of the kanji in a place name is “high ground,” it’s not always a reference to elevation in the modern geological sense (think sea level); it was a much more relative term. But in this case, it is most certainly a reference to the foundations of the old fortifications.


[i] The name itself is interesting, it means “under the willows,” but it has 3 possible readings. I’m not sure which the correct reading for this particular clan is as I’ve seen both Yanagishita and Yagishita in reference to this clan. Yanagishita seems to roll off the tongue a little easier, so I’m going with that one.

[ii] The traditional story also asserts that homeboy was a minor official in the service of the 南朝 Nanchō, the Southern Court. Readers unfamiliar with the establishment of the Muromachi shōgunate should know that in the 14th century, there was a succession dispute in the Imperial Family which led to the establishment of a second Imperial Court. Long story short, the Northern Court won and the current imperial line claims descent from this branch and considers the Southern Court a bunch of poseurs. Read more about the Northern and Southern Courts here.

[iii] Silver coins or silver itself, usually 銀 gin in modern Japanese, were apparently called 白金 shirokane at the time. Technically speaking, both methods of writing can be read as either gin or shirokane. There is an additional reading hakkin which means platinum.

[iv] If you remember from my article on What does Edo mean?, when you think “Japanese Castle,” you are most likely thinking of structures that were first developed around the time of Oda Nobunaga and reached their peak of development in the Edo Period. But the word 城 shiro is applied to both structures.

[v] In 1871 no less. This is so soon after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, that it seems like a deliberate dig at the Tokugawa to me.

Daitokuin

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on May 29, 2013 at 1:23 am

徳院
Daitokuin (Tower of Benevolence & Virtue)
二代将軍徳川秀忠公
2nd Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Hidetada
Zōjō-ji


Tokugawa Hidetada Daitokuin Taitokuin Zojoji Shiba Mausoleum

The Main Hall of Daitokuin (btw, Taitokuin is another possible reading).
You may want to refer back to this picture later.
BTW, if you go here, this picture shows a hill on the left side. This is incorrect. The whole area was relatively level, it being located at the top of a hill anyways.
The modern “main gate” has been moved to a new location. But the original spot is marked with a signpost.

Tokugawa Hidetada.


To the average Japanese his name has sort of dissipated into the ether. If they remember him at all, he’s the uninteresting guy between Ieyasu and Iemitsu. To fans of the Sengoku Era, he’s kinda boring compared to all the major warlords of the day. To fans of the Edo Era, he’s the son of a great man and the father of another great man, but not a great man himself.


But in my opinion, Hidetada’s reputation as a boring shōgun is totally unfair.


Part of his bad rep is the fact that he was Tokugawa Ieyasu’s second son. In the final throes of the Sengoku Period, Ieyasu had ordered his first son, Nobuyasu, to commit seppuku after a period of house arrest for suspected treason against Oda Nobunaga. Famously, Ieyasu is said to have regretted this order until he died. But such was life in Sengoku Japan. To make things worse, at the Battle of Sekigahara – Ieyasu’s most important battle – Hidetada arrived late… late as in, after the battle. Ieyasu was pissed off like a motherfucker and never forgot this.


Why do I think this is unfair?


1 – It’s not Hidetada’s fault he was born second (primogeniture was supremely important at the time)

2 – It’s not Hidetada’s fault that Nobuyasu was (apparently) a dick and got mixed up with people who were plotting Nobunaga’s murder (whether this was true or not is unknown).

3 – It’s not Hidetada’s fault that Nobunaga insisted on executing Nobuyasu and that Ieyasu ordered his own first born son to do seppuku in order to have an “honorable death.”

4 – Hidetada ruled for a little under 20 years. Not bad at all given the fact that even Hideyoshi hadn’t held onto power for more than 10 years. His own father, Ieyasu, abdicated from the position of shōgun after just 2 years[1]. So Hidetada set a record by just being alive.

5 – Besides being late to Sekigahara, one of the other alleged reasons Ieyasu hated Hidetada was that supposedly Hidetada married 江姫 Gō-hime for love. To Ieyasu this was the ultimate pussy move. Real men used women for making babies and managing the household while men tended to matters of war and state[2]. But I think it’s sweet.

6 Hidetada made strong relations with 朝廷 chōtei the imperial court in Kyōto by marrying the Tokugawa into the imperial bloodline.
7 – He encouraged massive building efforts in Edo, including Kan’ei-ji.
8 – He had a bad ass mustache.

Dude had a great mustache...

Dude had a great mustache…




So yeah, sometimes Tokugawa Hidetada gets cast as a pussy or as a shitty shōgun, but I don’t think that’s really the case. He definitely had the bad luck of being sandwiched between 2 remarkable shōguns in a remarkable time. But he wasn’t a shitty shōgun by any stretch of the imagination. The shitty shōguns don’t come until later. And they will come, believe me.


But in our story, Hidetada is the hero. He donated land to the Buddhist priest Tenkai to develop a second funerary temple complex at Kan’ei-ji in Ueno.  Even though Hidetada developed Kan’ei-ji, he chose to be interred at Zōjō-ji. Despite his direct order that he just have a simple gravestone, his mausoleum was said to have been the most opulent structure at Zōjō-ji. The shōgunate threw buckets of money into the development of a shrine worthy of the son of Tokugawa Ieyasu.


Most of the Daitokuin was destroyed in the firebombing of WWII and sadly never rebuilt. Luckily for us, a few structures survived. Except for one gate, the remaining pieces were sent to 不動寺 Fudō-ji in Tokorozawa, Saitama. Looking at the pictures of the original structures, they do look quite elaborate. If you see the restored 惣門 sōmon main gate in Shiba Park today, you’ll be shocked at how intense it is. Whether it looked like that in the Edo Period or not, I don’t know… but when it was new it probably did shine like that. Also seeing the level of detail and craftsmanship of the remaining pieces in Saitama, it really breaks my heart that all these treasures were lost forever.  Having spent the last 3 days sorting through as many photos as I could, I really do believe it’s a tragedy that these buildings were not only destroyed but never rebuilt.


Structure Name

Description

Condition

Location

殿

honden

Main temple

Destroyed

Shiba Park

(ruins)

watarō

Like an outdoor hallway that separated the oku no in from the honden.

Destroyed

Shiba Park

(ruins)

nakamon

Middle gate (2x)

Destroyed

Shiba Park

(ruins)

sukibei

A latticework fence common at shrines

Destroyed

Shiba Park

(ruins)

水盤舎 2

suibansha

Water basins for ritual purification (2x)

Destroyed

Shiba Park

(ruins)

全部

oku no in

Inner sanctuary complex;
included the 2 story pagoda that housed Hidetada’s remains and series of gates and buildings and a 5 story pagoda.

Everything

Destroyed

Shiba Park

(ruins)

sōmon

Main gate

Restored to bizarrely perfect condition

Shiba Park


勅額

chokugakumon

Imperial scroll gate (bears the okurigō gifted by the emperor upon the deceased; bears the shrine’s namesake)

Maintained in good condition

Fudō-ji
Tokorozawa
(moved in 1960)

丁子

chōjimon

Clove gate

(led into the area that led into the cemetery)

Maintained in good condition

Fudō-ji
Tokorozawa
(moved in 1960)

御成

o-inari mon

Gate dedicated to Inari


(I’ll talk more about this when I get back to Tōkyō place names…)

Maintained in good condition

Fudō-ji
Tokorozawa
(moved in 1960)

銅灯籠
dōtōrō
石灯籠
ishitōrō

Copper & stone lamps for illumination at night 

Many have survived

Most are at Fudō-ji

(Tokorozawa)

崇源院
霊牌
gen’in
reihaisho


Mausoleum of Gō, Hidetada’s wife.
gen’in is her ingō (“-in” name).

Destroyed

Shiba Park

(ruins)

General Map of Daitokuin

In the middle you can see a bunch of dudes in white lined up in front of the 惣門 Sōmon Main Gate. Pass through the main gate, that brings you to the 勅額門 chokugakumon imperial scroll gate. From there, you can see the 2 水盤舎 suibansha wash basins on the left and right. If you continue straight, you’ll arrive at the 本殿 honden main hall. To the right of the main you can see 崇源院 gen’in princess Gō‘s grave. To the left of the main hall,  you can go up the hill to the 奥院 oku no in, the inner sanctuary complex which housed Hidetada’s remains. The mortuary building was an octagonal, 2-story pagoda with a smaller 2-story urn made of wood inside. There was also another worship hall called a 拝殿 haiden in the oku no in. The five story pagoda next to it was technically part of Zōjō-ji, and not Daitokuin. Apparently some fences and monuments remained in situ until the 1960’s when they were either demolished or moved to another location.

Daitokuin Complex at Zojoji

Daitokuin Complex at Zojoji.
You’ll probably want to refer back to this painting throughout the article.


Daitokuin Complex at Zojoji (Legend)

Daitokuin Complex at Zojoji (Legend)

総門 Sōmon
The Main Gate

This type of gate is the street level gate. It’s meant a boundary between the mundane and the spiritual.
Called Sōmon in Japanese, the main gate survived all sorts of conflagrations and earthquakes. How it survived the firebombing that destroyed most of Zōjō-ji is beyond me. It’s been restored and it is splendid. But it looks so new that… I dunno. You be the judge.

Somon Gate (a type of nitemon gate). Notice the river on the right. Also in the background you can see one of the water basins (left) and the choji mon (right). You can also see the stairs to the imperial scroll gate.

Somon Gate (a type of nitemon gate).
Notice the river on the right.
Also in the background you can see one of the water basins (left) and the choji mon (right).
You can also see the stairs to the imperial scroll gate.

Tokugawa Hidetada's Grave - Main Gate

Daitokuin’s Main Gate
(you can see the Imperial Scroll Gate in the background)

The Main Entrance to Daitokuin as it looks today.

The Main Entrance to Daitokuin as it looks today.
This gate was originally located at the top of the hill, behind a small stream. The ruins of the streambank and original location of this gate and the imperial scroll gate are preserved and clearly marked in English and Japanese.

The Main Gate of Daitokuin at Christmas... What would Edo People think of this...?

The Main Gate of Daitokuin at Christmas… Looking down the hill at the “exit hole” of the Main Gate.

The derelict gate

The temple precinct was converted into a driving range and the main gate sat at the entrance until the restoration in 1997.

勅額門 chokugakumon
The Imperial Scroll Gate

The emperor — supposedly — thinks up and writes the posthumous name of the shōgun and then that handwritten calligraphy is made into a plaque for the true entrance to the temple. While the sōmon is the street level entrance, the imperial scroll gate, called 勅額門 chokugakumon announces  the name of the temple. It’s the gate between the mundane world and the spiritual realm of the deified shōgun.

Tokugawa Hidetada's Imperial Scroll Gate Saitama Zojoji

The Imperial Scroll Gate survived and was moved to Fudoji in Tokorozawa, Saitama in 1960.

水盤舎 suibansha
Water Basins for Ritual Purification

A crappy picture from the bakumatsu... luckily for us, despite its shittiness as a photograph, it clearly shows the courtyard between the Imperial Scroll Gate and the Main Hall -- along with the two wash basins.

A crappy picture from the bakumatsu… luckily for us, despite its shittiness as a photograph, it clearly shows the courtyard. On the left is the chokugakumon (imperial scroll gate), in the middle (top and bottom) are 2 matching wash basins (suibansha), on the right, the large building is the honden (main hall). In the middle bottom is a small gate called the choujimon (clove gate). You may want to refer back to this picture throughout the article.

daitokuin_courtyard

I found a better version of the photo.
It’s a little smaller, but it’s clear enough to see what’s going on.

Taken from the right side of the Imperial Scroll Gate, this picture shows the water basin and the fence and the main hall.

Taken from the right side of the Imperial Scroll Gate, this picture shows the water basin and the fence and the main hall.

Again, from the right side of the inside pf the imperial scroll gate, another view of the main hall with the washbasins on either side.

From the left side of the imperial scroll gate. Both wash basins can be seen and princess Go’s funerary temple can also be seen in the background.

本殿 honden
The Main Hall

Detail of the main hall's roof...

Detail of the main hall’s roof…

Nakamon, the middle gate. This gate led to the main hall. You can clearly see the latticework on the suikbei (fence).

Nakamon, the middle gate.
This gate led to the main hall.
You can clearly see the latticework on the suikbei (fence).

奥院 oku no in
The Inner Sanctuary (Mortuary)

From Hidetada’s main hall, if we turn left and walk up through the gate we ‘ll come to a steep staircase which leads to the 奥院 oku no in, the inner sanctuary or mortuary/cemetery. At the top of the stairs is another gate called 御稲荷門 O-narimon. This was a gate for the personal use of the shougun and his attendants. 100 years later, another o-nari gate would be built at Yūshōin.

O-narimon, leading to the Oku no in (inner sanctuary). Note the bridge. On the painting above you can just barely make out a small stream behind the gate.

Oinarimon, the Inari Gate, leading to the Oku no in (inner sanctuary). Note the bridge. On the painting above you can just barely make out a small stream behind the Inari Gate.

Oinarimon, the Inari Gate as it looks today. Now it is preserved at Fudo-ji in Tokorozawa, Saitama.

O-narimon, (private gate for the shogun) as it looks today.
Now it is preserved at Fudo-ji in Tokorozawa, Saitama.

Close up of the Inari Gate. The detail is fantastic and the color gives you a good idea of how the structures in the black and white photos would have looked. Beautiful!

Close up of the Inari Gate. The detail is fantastic and the color gives you a good idea of how the structures in the black and white photos would have looked. Beautiful!

An even closer look at the Inari Gate.

An even closer look at the Inari Gate.

Next we come to another gate called 中門 Nakamon, middle gate, this one leads to an octagonal 2-story pagoda. Inside the pagoda was a 2-story wooden urn which housed the remains of Hidetada.

The fence and nakamon surrounding the 2-story pagoda.

The tamagaki (fence) and nakamon surrounding the 2-story pagoda.

The fence and the 2-story pagoda.

The fence and the 2-story pagoda and the tamagaki (fence).

Nakamon and the 2-story pagoda with wood props.

Nakamon and the 2-story pagoda with wood props.

The Nakamon, middle gate, entrance to the 2-story pagoda.

The Nakamon, middle gate, entrance to the 2-story pagoda.
(I’m not sure, but I think this picture is taken with the photographer’s back to the pagoda, meaning the structure in the background is the haiden, hall of worship.)

Hidetada's funerary urn.

The wooden urn that held Tokugawa Hidetada’s remains stood inside the 2-story pagoda.

The wooden urn that held Tokugawa Hidetada's remains stood inside the 2-story pagoda.

A colorized shot of the wooden funerary urn and a funky table in front of it.
Note the carved dragons on the wall in the background.

After the firebombing, this is all that was left of the octagonal pagoda that housed Hidetada's wooden urn.  I'm not sure what the giant poop in the center is all about.

After the firebombing, this is all that was left of the octagonal pagoda that housed Hidetada’s wooden urn.
I’m not sure what the giant poop in the center is all about.

Pretty sure this is the remains of Hidetada's octagonal grave.

Pretty sure this is the remains of Hidetada’s octagonal grave.

In front of the 2-story pagoda was the 拝殿 haiden, another hall of worship separate from the 本殿 honden, main hall. In the close up of the Nakamon above, you can see the roof behind the 玉垣 tamagaki fence. I don’t have a picture of the outside of the building, but you can see it in the painting above.

Woodwork detail of the 2-story pagoda.

Detail of the outside of the haiden.

Inside the haiden worship hall.

Inside the haiden worship hall.

While it wasn’t part of Daitokuin, on the hill across from the haiden, there was a 5-story pagoda.

The 5-story pagoda of Zojoji

The 5-story pagoda of Zojoji.
Note the 2 benches. Shiba Park used to be really nice, huh?

Now, if we turn around and go back down the stairs and walk past the main hall, we’ll find a gate called 丁子門 chōjimon, the clove gate. If we pass through the clove gate, we will enter another mortuary called Sūgen’in. This is the grave of Hidetada’s wife, Gō.

Choujimon - the clove gate - is still preserved at Fudo-ji in Tokorozawa, Saitama.

Chojimon – the clove gate – is still preserved at Fudo-ji in Tokorozawa, Saitama.

崇源院 Sūgen’in
Source of Adoration
Posthumous name of Princess Gō.

Sugen'in

Sugen’in

Sugen'in Note there are more trees and there is a sign for tourists.

Sugen’in
Note there are more trees and there is a sign for tourists.

Close up of the gate to Sugen'in. (love the lazy just sitting on the stairs...)

Close up of the gate to Sugen’in.
(love the lazy just sitting on the stairs…)

Hidetada and Go-hime's funerary urns were made of wood, so they were lost in the firebombing. They were enshrined together. Today their remains rest in the Tokugawa Cemetery at Zojo-ji.

Hidetada and Go-hime’s funerary urns were made of wood, so they were lost in the firebombing.
They were enshrined together.
Today their remains rest in the Tokugawa Cemetery at Zojo-ji.

And finally, the copper lamps

Many stone lamps and copper lamps were on the premises. Some of the lamps that survived the firebombing were re-used at Zōjō-ji, but most were relocated to Fudō-ji in 1960.

The suriviing copper lamps at Fudo-ji.

The surviving copper lamps at Fudo-ji.

The ruins of Daitokuin have been turned into a park, you can see the area well from Tokyo Tower.

The ruins of Daitokuin have been turned into a park, you can see the area well from Tokyo Tower.

If you walk through the Somon (main gate) and go up the stairs, at the top of the hill there is an exhibit of the excavated remains of one of the waterways that coursed through the Daitokuin complex.

If you walk through the Somon (main gate) and go up the stairs, at the top of the hill there is an exhibit of the excavated remains of one of the waterways that coursed through the Daitokuin complex.

 

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[1] It must be said, however, that Ieyasu abdicated in order to oversee the succession of his shōgunate from behind the scenes. So in as much as Hidetada was nominally shōgun, it could be said that Ieyasu was still in charge. Nevertheless, as shōgun, Hidetada wasn’t a puppet. Edicts and policies enacted during his reign are distinct from Ieyasu’s.


[2] s name was written many different ways. She was also called 江与 Eyo and , among other things. It’s really complicated, so I’m just calling her Gō.

Why is Shiba called Shiba?

In Japanese History on May 23, 2013 at 12:37 am


Shiba (grass/lawn)

Shiba. There's stil some lush greenery as well as some gaijin lushes.

Shiba. There’s still some lush greenery as well as some gaijin lushes.

The first theory I came across was one that said that the grass in this part of the Musashi Plain was particularly lush. A quick search for old art depicting any areas of the vast Musashi Plain will yield pictures of tall grasses.  Search for plants of the Musashi Plain and all that you’ll see are lush grasses. I don’t see how an area next to the sea would be particularly more luxurious than any other area.

The second theory is that the 斯波氏 Shiba clan had a residence in the area. During the Ashikaga shōgunate, the Shiba were one the families that could hold the position of 管領 kanrei deputy shōgun (literally controller). While the family line came to an end in the mid 1500’s, it’s not impossible to imagine that some member of the Shiba family had a residence here. However, there doesn’t seem to be any collaborating evidence for this theory.

Shiba this, bitch!

These are shiba (柴) at high tide in Omori Kaigan. They’ve been placed in the inlet to harvest seaweed, a centuries old technique… apparently still used.

Another theory is that in the early days, when there were many shallow inlets cutting in to what is now central Tōkyō (and this part of town was literally part of the bay, the area was characterized by brushwood used to grow and harvest 海苔 nori seaweed. The general word for brushwood is 柴 shiba*. As far back as the Sengoku Period, we know there to have been a 柴村 Shiba Mura Shiba Village in the area. In the early Edo Period, 柴町 Shiba Machi Shiba Town is attested. The name change reflects an area whose population had grown substantially. In the early Edo Period we start to see an alternate writing as 芝町 Shiba Machi. Over the course of the Edo Period, this new variation becomes the standard and the old variant dies out. Products developed in the area develop a widespread reputation as “Shiba Machi” products – like a brand name.

A view of Zojoji, one of the two Tokugawa shogun funerary temples in Edo. Notice the long sando.   (You don remember what a sando was, don't you??)*****

A view of Zojoji, one of the two Tokugawa shogun funerary temples in Edo. Notice the long sando.
(You do remember what a sando was, don’t you??)****

I couldn’t find anything to explain the change in the kanji or the demand for goods produced in the area, but I have a theory. The shōgunate built a funerary temple complex called Zōjōji in Shiba. As a result, many daimyō residences were also built in the area. I’m willing to bet that the urbanization of the bay front area and controlling the water that flowed in and out of the bay curtailed land/water use in the area. This would have produced more dry land where lush fields of grass might grow instead of mushy wetlands**. The gentrification that came with the arrival of nobles and one of the shōgun family’s main temples would have given the area a lot of prestige. This is all conjecture, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable that lush grass became more of the stereotypical image of the area than swampy inlets filled with half-naked villagers checking their crappy brushwood nets for seaweed. It’s also not unreasonable to assume that as the area had grown in prestige a nice kanji like (lawn, grass) was preferable to which looks like something you’d use for kindling in a fire.

Some of that the lush-ass Musashino grass. Too bad you can't smoke that shit.

Some of that the lush-ass Musashino grass. Too bad you can’t smoke that shit.

Personally, I don’t find any of these satisfying etymologies, but the last one has a lot more to play with. The practice of using 柴 shiba brushwood to harvest nori is apparently still done in a few existing inlets (see picture).

But there is a chronology problem. In 1486, there is a reference to an area called 芝ノ浦 Shiba no ura “under Shiba.” This place name uses the “grass/lawn” kanji and not the “brushwood” kanji. The area is noted for salt production and shipping***.

In present day Tōkyō, the south of Shiba is called 芝浦 Shibaura (literally, “under Shiba”). This indicates that the grass/lawn kanji variant may have been in use prior to the Edo Period. It might also suggest that – coincidentally – there were two areas phonetically referred to as しば shiba but – possibly – unrelated to each other etymologically. If this were the case, the alternation of the kanji in the early Edo Period could reflect a confusion or ambiguity about the area that was finally resolved through standardization by the mid-Edo Era – perhaps through a process similar to what I hypothesized above…

…or perhaps not.

Shiba Shrimp - Delicious Japanese Food

Mmmmmmm. Shiba Ebi.

So, who the fuck knows? Once again, the origins of another pre-Edo Period place name prove to be elusive. But this time I won’t leave you totally empty handed. As I mentioned before, items produced in Shiba were famous throughout the land in the Edo Period. One of the products was a particularly delicious variety of shrimp that were abundant in the area and brought into port in Shiba/Shibaura. Originally 芝海老 Shiba Ebi Shiba Shrimp was the local name for this species in the area. The species wasn’t specific to this corner of Edo Bay, but the name spread and became the standard appellation for this type of crustacean everywhere in Japan. So while I can’t give you a clear etymology of Shiba, the origins of the name Shiba Shrimp is something we know 100%.

The ironic thing is that these days the water is so polluted that there are very few of them in Tōkyō Bay. Now, most Shiba Shrimp in Japan come from Niigata and Taiwan.
.
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* Compare this to the origin of Hibiya, which is most likely derived from a different method of growing and harvesting nori. (On a somewhat unrelated note, this brushwood kanji is the same character used for 柴犬 shibaken, the famous breed of Japanese dogs.)
** Check out my article on Two Famous Murders to see a picture of nearby Mita/Azabu where you can clearly see “lush grass” growing.
*** Compare this to the origin of Shiodome, which has a salt production theory associated with it.
**** You already forgot what a sandō was?? FFS, have a look at the origin of Omotesandō.

Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 2)

In Japanese History on April 2, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I got so excited talking about these 2 famous murders that I only talked about one last time. Today, I’m gonna try to set things right.

So, last time I told you about the assassination of Henry Heusken.

I really respect Heusken. He loved languages; he apparently loved meeting people and walls ballsy enough to cruise around Bakumatsu Era Edo knowing full well that there were assassination attempts against foreigners all the time. Just like the honey badger, Henry Heusken doesn’t give a shit.

He was cut down in front of 中ノ橋 Naka no Hashi (“the middle bridge), about 50 meters from my house. About 50 meters the other direction, the man who is blamed for his assassination was also cut down at another bridge called 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi (“the first bridge”).

Kiyokawa Hachiro in black & white

Kiyokawa Hachiro looking like a douche in black & white.

Kiyokawa Hachirō was born, conveniently, in Kiyokawa village. He opened a fencing school that taught Confucianism in Edo where he tried to spread his anti-shōgunate propaganda. He had to flee Edo for killing someone (as one did in those days) but his students in Edo continued his anti-shōgunate work. Their activity culminated in the killing of Henry Heusken at Naka no hashi in 1861.

Kiyokawa Hachiro looking like a douche in color.

Kiyokawa Hachiro looking like a douche in color.

If you’ve seen the 2004 Taiga Drama, 「新撰組!」Shinsengumi, then you know this guy pretty well. He formed a kind of militia called the 老士組 Rōshigumi (Ronin Corps). The Rōshigumi was a group of masterless samurai who went to Kyōto as an auxiliary police force to keep order while the 14th Tokugawa shōgun, Iemochi visited the emperor, Kōmei.

The home where Kiyokawa Hachiro was born. (Just the sort of place you'd expect a douche to be born).

The home where Kiyokawa Hachiro was born. (Just the sort of place you’d expect a douche to be born).

When the group reached Kyōto, Kiyokawa suddenly announced that he was an anti-foreigner, anti-shōgunate rebel. He also told the ronin that they were now in the service of the Emperor and they must all return to Edo to expel the foreigners. For whatever reason, these dumbasses who just walked for days and days all the way from Edo to Kyōto decided, “Sure! Seems legit!” and turned around and walked all the way back to Edo (for days and days).

History remembers that a little under 20 members remained in Kyōto under the name Rōshigumi and eventually became the Shinsengumi. But that’s another story for another time.

The only good thing that came out of Kiyokawa Hachiro was that the men who refused to go along with his douchebaggery became the Shinsengumi. And they're fucking cool.

The only good thing that came out of Kiyokawa Hachiro was that the men who refused to go along with his douchebaggery became the Shinsengumi. And they’re fucking cool.

At any rate, Kiyokawa has already proven his character to me. He’s a shifty snake in the grass, a racist, and a fucking liar.

Here's Kiyokawa's girlfriend from the 1964 movie,

Here’s Kiyokawa’s girlfriend from the 1964 movie, “Assassin.” Never seen the movie, but you have to admit, she’s pretty cute.

Well, as it turns out, the joke was on him. The Imperial Court wasn’t down with his duplicity and didn’t accept his petition to use the Rōshigumi in the name of the Emperor. And by this time, of course, the Bakufu was also on to his douchery. (If that’s even a word…)

Sasaki Tadasaburo. The man who finally put an end to a lifetime of douchery. (Unfortunately, he'd later pull his own douchebag move by killing Sakamoto Ryoma... but that's a story for another time).

Sasaki Tadasaburo. The man who finally put an end to a lifetime of douchery. (Unfortunately, he’d later pull his own douchebag move by killing Sakamoto Ryoma… but that’s a story for another time).

Once the group was back in Edo, the shōgunate decided do a little restructuring of the leadership of the Rōshigumi since… um… that Kiyokawa guy didn’t work out so well. Kiyokawa went on the run and came up with a plan to burn Yokohama (which was infested with foreigners) and he and 500 samurai would cut down as many of them as they could in the mayhem. (Awesome plan, by the way… not.).  But the shōgunate got him. He was hunted down by a group of samurai, including the hatamoto, Sasaki Tadasaburo. He finally met his end at 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi in Azabu-Jūban. If you come out of exit 5 of Azabu-Jūban Station, you’ll find the bridge and the Furukawa River right there across from the 商店街 shōtengai shopping street.

I don't know of any pictures of Ichi no Hashi from the Edo Period. In fact, I can't find any historical pictures of it at all. So here's what it looks like today. Not much to look at, actually.

I don’t know of any pictures of Ichi no Hashi from the Edo Period. In fact, I can’t find any historical pictures of it at all. So here’s what it looks like today. Not much to look at, actually.

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Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 1)

In Japanese History on April 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

I’ve stayed/lived/whatevered in 3 places in Tokyo. When I first came here I lived in Uguisudani for about 3 months. It’s a pretty historical place and taking walks around Taitō-ku sparked my interested in Japan History. Then I lived in Nakano for about 6 years. It’s not a very historical place, but it has its own charms and I really liked it there. Now I live in Mita, which is an area steeped in history, some of it going back as far as the Taika Era (or so we are told).

Anyhoo, I’m really happy in Mita for the time being because the area was important in the Edo Period and was also the scene of a lot of action during my favorite period in Japanese History, the Bakumatsu.

Anyways, right behind my house there is a river called the 古川 Furukawa “the Old River.” In fact, as I look out the window right now, I can see it flowing all the way down a hill where it disappears under 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi. If there weren’t tall buildings blocking the way, I could probably watch it go past Shiba and the Tokugawa funerary temple of Zōjōji.

I live between two bridges. One is called 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi (“the first bridge”) and the next is called 中ノ橋 Naka no Hashi (“the middle bridge”). Both bridges were sites of murders of two well-known names of the Bakumatsu: 清川八郎 Kiyokawa Hachirō and ヒュースケン Hendrick Conrad Joannes Heusken (better known as Henry Heusken in the anglosphere).

Henry Heusken

A Japanese depiction of Heusken. He loved riding on horseback, an act reserved for high ranking samurai — this pissed off low ranking, racist samurai.

Going in chronological date of their murders, we’ll start with Henry Heusken

First of all, if you’ve seen the 2004 NHK Taiga Drama 「新撰組!」 (Shinsengumi), you will know this scene well. If you haven’t watched that drama… well, you should watch it. It’s awesome! If you remember the scene when a young Kondō Isami and Hijikata Toshizō hear about a group of anti-foreigner samurai planning to assassinate a foreign translator and Isami sits down and talks with the guy about how much he loves Japan and Japanese women, that would be the event we’re talking about now. Except that scene was fiction and Kondō Isami probably never met Henry Heusken. (I actually doubt Kondō Isami ever met a foreigner ever).

But I digress… (who me??)

From

From “Shinsengumi!” – Heusken meets Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo and Nakakura Shinpachi. (This never happened in real life).

Back to Henry Heusken. Who was he?

Henry Heusken was born in Holland. His family immigrated to the US in the 1850’s (maybe he was in his 20’s then?). Because he could speak both English and Dutch he got the gig of a lifetime in 1856: He went to Japan as personal secretary and interpreter to Townsend Harris on America’s first embassy to Japan in (公使館 kōshikan “legation” as compared to 大使館 taishikan “embassy”). Apparently he could speak French and German well enough for those days and he picked up Japanese quickly.

Zenpukuji - Home of the American Legation.

Zenpukuji – Home of the American Legation.

He was apparently a pretty ballsy guy and felt confident in his ability to speak Japanese or other languages to get by in most situations.  He was bangin’ a few Japanese bitches around town like Charisma Man and actually knocked on one up.  It also seems like he was a fairly high profile foreigner in Edo (at a time when there weren’t many foreigners at all — and most foreigners stayed in their secure diplomatic enclaves). Townsend Harris had apparently told him not to come back after dark because anti-foreign attacks were becoming increasingly common at the time.

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That's Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river... I'm not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs...

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That’s Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river… I’m not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs…

Anyways, the American legation was staying at 善福寺 Zenpukuji (“Zenpuku Temple”) in Azabu-Jūban. As Heusken came home late one night, he approached the guardhouse near Naka no Hashi (the bridge). A bunch of dirty rōnin jumped out from an alley on the side of the guard house and attacked him. Accounts vary but he may have lain in the street for close to an hour before he was carried back to Zenpukuji. The attackers aimed for his heart but most of his wounds were in his belly. Apparently he was spilling guts everywhere and it was really gross.

At Zenpukuji he was visited by a doctor and some high ranking Japanese officials. A photographer was there, too, who snapped a picture of him right after he died. Ironically, this may be the only photo of the dude (at least I’ve never seen another photo of him).

Heusken's corpse.

Heusken’s corpse.

Heusken's common law wife (in Japan she was considered his common law wife, out of Japan she was just his bitch...)

Heusken’s common law wife (but notice she’s wearing 振袖)

Heusken's wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

Heusken’s wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

He is buried in 光林寺 Kōrinji in 南麻布 Minami Azabu (South Azabu), a 20-30 walk from Azabu-Jūban Station.

His assassins were never captured, but a certain Kiyokawa Hachirō was implicated in the attack at the time. Even today most people point the finger at him.

(continued in part 2)

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What does Mita mean?

In Japanese History on March 31, 2013 at 11:42 pm

三田
Mita (3 Fields)

Mita is home of Tokyo Tower and some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Tokyo.

Mita is home of Tokyo Tower and some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Tokyo.

It’s another busy day, so I chose 三田 Mita (3 Fields) because I thought it would be easy.
Turns out, this one isn’t as cut and dry as I’d thought.

And it’s kinda complicated….

According to the 10th century book, 和名類聚抄 Wamyō Ruiju-shō (Japanese Names for Things), there was a place here written 御田 Mita. (It’s referred to as 御田郷 Mita-gō, the 郷 gō just means “hamlet” or “small village”). That place name was originally written 屯田 Mita and fell under direct control of the Emperor and his court before the Taika Reform (645). 屯田 was specifically used for production of rice for the Imperial Court in Kyōto.

The Taika Reform enacted sweeping land reforms and it makes sense that place names might change as the use of land changed. For a little while, the area was then used as a 神田 shinden (a rice field affiliated with a shrine), with the rice and/or its proceeds going to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. The kanji 神田 can also be read as mita.

The movie

The movie “Always” takes place in Mita in the 1960’s.

By the middle of the Edo Period, the area was coming to be increasingly written as 三田, which you have to admit is a helluva lot simpler than the older ways. The reason is most likely that 御田 can be read as oden, onta, onda, and mita, while 神田 can be read as shinden, kamita, kanada, kada, kanda, kōda, and mita三田 also has variant readings, but is usually read as mita.*

And here I thought I was gonna get off easy, like Gotanda. I didn’t plan on reading up on the Taika Reforms!

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Edo Period. (the building on the right is the lower residence of Hizen Shimabara Domain)

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Edo Period.

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Now Period.

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Now Period.

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*Some variant readings include: sanda, sata and mitsuda. There’s a Sanda in Hyōgo Prefecture.

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